Bill Cosby, the Black Community, and Rape Culture

I have tried to stay out of writing about this still-developing story, but I have failed. As a rape survivor, I cannot ignore the fact that this is something serious, and needs to be addressed, especially as it relates to women’s health.  Bill Cosby has been raping women for decades, and as the survivors come forward and admit their rape stories, they are placed under the scrutiny of rape culture, slut shaming, patriarchy, and misogyny. Through these systems, we continue to see these women told that their stories are not real in trade to still believe in the man we once called Heathcliff Huxtable. Although I will not be going into graphic detail, I will still be giving out a trigger warning, in the event that other survivors like me mentally cannot take anymore.

As a millennial child, I knew Bill Cosby from the Cosby Show. While I didn’t look up to Bill Cosby as my father, he was still looked up to. Rudy, Theo, Vanessa, Denise, Sandra. I grew up wondering what would happen to them as they got into various hijinks. I grew up seeing that painting hung on the wall of the Cosby house.  My mother still says that we grew up the Cosby way, bless her heart. I saw him as a hero, as a fairy tale. But now, all I will remember him as was the rapist who was so cunning, he had people blaming his 50 victims. Rape culture, especially in the black community is something we often don’t address. This stems from the invincible Negro myth, and it also comes from the days of slavery. It was very common to see black women slaves raped by masters and people of the house (I’m positive black men and boys were raped as well, but the dynamic that has played out is different). Because of the power dynamic of master/slave, black women and girls learned quickly to internalize the rape, to shrug it off as something that shouldn’t bug them, or something they brought upon themselves, giving them no right to complain or get upset. This suppression method was used for survival in times of slavery and even in Jim Crow, leaving the currently living generations backed into the same position; we are women, this was our fault, we need to be quiet. These thoughts are sick, but they come from not simply slavery, but patriarchy, which black men benefit from despite the fact that they were slaves.

Patriarchy is always a tricky subject to bring up in the presence of men. Automatically, as a college-aged woman, I am often reduced to naïveté, my complete trust in the professor. None of them bother to listen when I tell them that my experience backed up by my reading is what solidifies my belief in patriarchy. My life experiences are shot down, told that I must have been angry or something. This is the ultimate privilege of patriarchy, the ability to deny patriarchy while completely embodying it.

SEPT 97

 Living in a world where Bill Cosby was revered in the black community, learning that he has committed some of the most heinous acts, it brings about many complex issues. We become so invested in keeping his image clean, even after admittance in legal court, that we do so at the expense of his victims. “Well why didn’t they come out and say something sooner?” Is often the accusing question, but at the same time, we hear people say how they swear Bill Cosby isn’t guilty, that he was just being friendly, etc. Bill Cosby is tried based on his work as an actor, not on the words and stories of the women who have survived sexual assault and rape by him. We as a black community have become so used to holding him as the black television messiah, which we aim to keep him there no matter the price, even truth.

Damon Wayans recently came out and said that these women are “unrapable” because they were once in a consensual relationship with Bill Cosby, therefore any sexual interaction must have been consensual as well. This is often a myth that goes around rape culture. 1 in 4 women have been raped, most likely by someone they know. Yet when these women go to admit this rape, they are often not believed because many of these women have known their rapist before. Knowing someone is not automatic consent. Under any circumstance. Let’s say I needed a kidney, and I took my friend’s kidney without letting them know first. When they came back from surgery and I let them know what happened, they would be furious because this isn’t what they agreed on. By the logic of rape culture, I wouldn’t be guilty of any crimes because I knew them and therefore I had their consent. In that context, it makes absolutely no sense, right? But when put in the context of rape, men automatically go to this thought, even in the absence of someone who is well known. Yet when getting more in depth, Wayans said that if it had been his daughter, he would have killed Bill Cosby, no question about it. This is also another issue with rape culture, and society in general.

We have become an impersonal community. We have been conditioned by the dominant culture that our people (people of color) are nothing more than thugs and robbers. And with the process of gentrification that keeps people of lower income from staying in one place for too long, we find ourselves isolating ourselves, deconstructing the system that bonded Black Americans together as a community. This is something that isn’t just seen in instances such as these, but they expands to movements that claim to be in the best interest of the entire black community. Many revolutionaries talk lovingly of the Black Panther Party, yet we ignore the fact that in that same time, the Black Panthers were very misogynistic. They often reduced women to objects of sensuality to attract more members. Women were often seen in the position of caretakers for the children, and even the women who were higher up were given less power. This becomes a difficult pill to swallow, but we need to understand that women have been placed in this position through white supremacy, and simply carried out due to comfort from the system of patriarchy.

Women being seen as docile and less than helped to contribute to the system of slut shaming. Black women have always been seen solely as either objects of sexuality or simply caring mammies. This has been done to excuse the actions of the men who raped black women and girls in time of slavery and Jim Crow. Black women were even more so expected to be chaste and virginal, and any deviation from that automatically makes a woman fast, or whatever derogatory term you choose to insert. Amber Rose recently had her slut walk where she forgave Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa, and along the way she faced many catcalling guys. I don’t have the exact quote, but I know she said something along the lines of “just because I’m sexual doesn’t mean I want to have sex with you.” This is everything. It doesn’t matter how many partners one has had, or how promiscuous one chooses to be. They have a choice whether to engage in sexual interaction with someone, and they have the right to not only have their no respected, but their enthusiastic yes be taken as the marker for consent. And to be on drugs and presented with sexual contact of any kind while the other isn’t, it creates an imbalance, as they don’t have the equal mind to say yes with and fully understand what’s going on.

Rape culture is slowly being tackled, which is why these women felt safe enough to finally come forward. These women were obviously not in the position to question it when it occurred, and for the one who did, Bill Cosby’s money and influence went a long way. These women were completely aware of the power that Cosby had in the industry, and understood that by coming forward could mean so far as their life.  For all these women to be brave enough to come forward now, we should be accepting that even the people we thought we knew best are capable of the most heinous crimes possible, and that nobody is getting out of life unscathed from these oppressive systems

-JW

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